The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest state on the Arabian Peninsula, with extensive coastlines on both the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf and common borders with all other Arabian countries and Jordan and Iraq in the north. Topographically, the country is very varied, with extensive mountain ranges reaching 3,000 m and limestone escarpments, vast sand deserts, lava deserts and coastal and inland sand/gravel plains.
Summary of Wetland Situation
Although Saudi Arabia has an extremely arid climate, a wide variety of natural wetland types are located within the Kingdom, and each major physiographic unit supports some permanent wetlands as well as a plethora of ephemeral types. In recent decades, many man-made wetlands have been created, and away from the coastal zones, these are often very significant features in the landscape. Eight wetland systems were identified in the Kingdom by Tinley (1994).
- Coastal systems: include coral islands, reefs, mud-, sand- and algal-flats, mangroves, lagoons and inlets, as well as perennial freshwater marshes and artesian springs.
- Dunefield systems: include relatively minor aquifer seeps on both Red Sea and Gulf coasts and a major wetland in the Rub 'al Khali.
- Sabkha systems: extensive sabkhas (erratically flooded salt-flats) are present on both Gulf and southern Red Sea plains; additionally, much of the terrain between the lower Gulf and the Rub 'al Khali is sabkha dominated; smaller sabkhas are also present in the northern harrats and in inland drainage basins on the central plateau.
- Karst systems: of very limited occurrence, although perhaps forming the only truly permanent lakes in central Arabia e.g. the aquifer-fed karst crater lakelets of the Al Aflaj/Layla district.
- Mountain systems: support a range of small wetlands e.g. ponded pockets, other pools and seeps, especially in granite mountains and inselbergs; various seeps and marshes in volcanic/harrat areas.
- Geothermal systems: very limited wetlands confined to the southern Tihamah e.g. Ain Wakrah springs at Malaki Dam.
- Wadi systems: abundant features of the Red Sea escarpment mountains, although only a relatively small proportion support perennially flowing rivers. They can flow either westwards towards, though rarely reaching, the Red Sea or eastwards i.e. inland.
- Man-made systems: include large open expanses of water (dams and reservoirs) and linear canal systems feeding irrigated farmland or outflows from sewage treatment plants (Riyadh and Makkah water courses) or industrial areas (Gulf area).
Both inshore and coastal waters and those surrounding offshore islands support major fisheries. Small-scale natural wetlands have had a pivotal role in the subsistence economics of many inland areas; such oasis areas have a long history of date palm cultivation.
Saudi Arabian coastal wetlands support internationally important populations of breeding seabirds, wintering shorebirds, breeding turtles, dugongs, fish and a vast array of corals and other invertebrate taxa (Abuzinada & Krupp, 1994; Gladstone, 1994a).
Dawhat ad-Dafi and Dawhat al-Musallamiya
Sabkhat al-Fasl Lagoons
Gulf Coral Islands
Gulf of Salwah
Tabuk (King Faisal Airbase)
Wadi Rabigh Springs
Makkah Wastewater Stream
Yanbu Royal Commission Zone
Jeddah South Corniche and Central